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Campanis Fired in Wake of Racial Remarks : O'Malley Changes His Mind, Asks for Resignation; Claire Takes Over Player Personnel Role

April 09, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Al Campanis, the Dodgers' vice president in charge of player personnel for 19 years and a member of the organization for 44 years, was fired Wednesday, two days after saying during a nationally televised interview that blacks did not have the "necessities" to be managers or front-office executives.

Owner Peter O'Malley said that, upon further reflection after a "good night's sleep," he had decided Wednesday morning to ask Campanis for his resignation.

O'Malley, who had said Tuesday night that Campanis' job was "absolutely not" in jeopardy, said that after reflection, Campanis' comments were too serious to ignore.

"The comments Al made Monday night . . . were so far removed and so distant from what I believe and what the organization believes that it was impossible for Al to continue the responsibilities that he's had with us," O'Malley said in a press conference before Wednesday's Dodger game against the Houston Astros.

Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president whose duties mostly have been administrative, will assume Campanis' duties, O'Malley said. Among Campanis' responsibilities were trades and other player moves.

O'Malley said that Campanis, 70, will not be given another job in the organization, and that Campanis will not be consulted on future player personnel decisions.

Asked if Claire will permanently assume Campanis' job, O'Malley said: "For what duration, I cannot say. I don't know."

Claire has been with the club for 17 years, having joined the team in 1969 as director of publicity. Before that, he was a sports editor, columnist and baseball writer for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, the Pomona Progress Bulletin and the Whittier News. He was appointed Dodger vice president in charge of public relations and promotions in 1975, and executive vice president in December of 1982.

There has long been speculation that Manager Tom Lasorda, 59, would take over as vice president of player personnel when Campanis eventually stepped down. The departure of Campanis further complicates the Dodgers' front-office alignment. Last month, Bill Schweppe, the vice president of minor-league operations, announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. A replacement has yet to be named. In a prepared statement, Claire said:

"I fully recognize the important task in assuming the responsibility of the director of player personnel department of the Dodgers. We are fortunate to have many talented people in scouting, minor league and major departments. We will call upon all of these members of the Dodger organization to help field the best team possible."

O'Malley said that the strong reaction to Campanis' remarks in Los Angeles from groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League had not prompted his decision to fire Campanis.

"Fortunately, I've been in Houston yesterday and today, so I haven't read what comments are in the newspaper and to what extent protests might exist," O'Malley said. "It was just, in my judgment, the appropriate, proper and right thing to do."

Tuesday night, O'Malley and Campanis had issued apologies for Campanis' remarks on ABC-TV's "Nightline" program that was focusing on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the baseball color barrier. That was also when O'Malley said flatly that Campanis would not lose his job over the incident.

Wednesday, O'Malley said: "That question was asked to me at about the fourth inning (of Tuesday's game), and it was accurate at that time. Sometimes, a good night's sleep will make you think more clearly. After a hectic day yesterday, I clearly think that it was the appropriate, proper and right thing to do."

Campanis was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. O'Malley and Campanis left Houston on the same flight Wednesday afternoon and returned to Los Angeles.

O'Malley, Lasorda and some Dodger players referred to the firing as a sad day.

"I remember when I asked Al to be the vice president (in 1968), he said it was the happiest day of his career," O'Malley said. "Yesterday and today, he said it was the saddest day of his career.

"I don't believe that (Campanis' comments on television) accurately reflect Al's thoughts on the subject (of blacks in baseball). But nevertheless, what was said was said. . . . No one has advanced minorities more than Al. It goes back to hiring Jim Gilliam as a coach. That was Al's suggestion. The hiring of Tommy Davis (as a batting instructor), that was Al's suggestion. I could go on."

Campanis' comments seemed especially shocking because he had been part of Branch Rickey's "great experiment" in 1946, when Jackie Robinson was signed to a minor-league contract. Campanis was the shortstop on the 1946 Montreal Royals, for which Robinson played second base.

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